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AFC Preview: Shandong Luneng Taishan FC vs. FC Seoul

(from FC Seoul.com)

After Saturday's devastating loss, FC Seoul have little time to reflect.  They are back in action and their opponent is Chinese powerhouse Shandong Luneng Taishan FC.  Looking at their history on Wikipedia, they were originally founded as Shandong Provincial team in 1956, but changed their name to its current incarnation in 1993.  Luneng, which is their majority holder, is part of the Shandong Electric Power Group Corporation (they supply the most power in the Shandong Province).  They have won four league titles (1999, 2006, 2008, 2010) and are one of the founding members of the professional league.

That is the official history.  Unofficially, they are a leviathan, part of a shadowy cabal that has wielded power in secret since the days of Confucius, who control world affairs with the thirteen families.  Their octopus-like tentacles stretch out and reach into every part of the underground shadow economy of illegality and amoral behavior.  If it is narcotics, sales of enriched uranium, arms dealing, assassinations, poaching of endangered species, illegal downloading of intellectual property, or removing the tags from mattresses, then Shandong Luneng Taishan FC have an appendage somewhere and some place, promoting avarice over virtue.

FC Seoul, on the other hand, are a minnow in comparison.  They have a humble history and lack the financial benefits that a utility to can give, with only the support of a small chaebol (GS Shop, nee Lucky Goldstar Corporation) to count on.  When they are not in training to perfect their craft, these noble athletes are out in the community feeding the poor, helping the downtrodden, and eradicating illiteracy.  

Known as the People's Champion, FC Seoul travel to Jinan to take east Asian superpower Shandong Luneng Taishan FC.  Will Seoul play David to Shandong's Goliath?  

(from FCSeoul.com)

Shandong Luneng Taishan FC- Chinese Super League

Last season, Shandong finished in third place, eight points behind Guangzhou Evergrande.  They scored 66 goals (2.2 goals per game) while conceding 41 (1.37 goals per game).  Leading the line for them was Aliosio, who won the Golden Boot with 22 goals while also chipping in 8 assists.  However, he has gotten off to a slow start with an injury and has not featured much this year.  

Only two games have been played in the Chinese Super League this year and Shandong's record is a rather pedestrian one win and one loss.  In the first game against Jiangsu Sunning, they were soundly defeated 3-0.  An ominous beginning for a defense that struggled last year, Shandong could not be happy having conceded to Ramires in the third minute.  From there, the Chinese Super League's most expensive transfer, Alex Teixeira, bagged a brace to round out the score.  Other than Hao Junmin, who"had five interceptions and six won duels", not many players could leave the field with their heads held high.  

Last week's game against Lioaning Whowin was better since they came away with a victory, but with the scoreline 3-2, questions will continued to be asked of their defense.  Again, they conceded first, but this time it took 20 minutes rather than the scant three in the game prior.  From there, the offense clicked into action and took over the game.  Diego Tardelli bagged his first CSL goal, Wang Yangpo scored the second, and Yang Xu knocked in the third.  Lioaning scored in the 91st minute to make things interesting.  

(from news.xinhuanet.com)
Shandong Luneng Taishan FC- AFC Champions League

Shandong qualified for the group stages by knocking off the Indian side Mohun Bagan 6-0 at home and winning on the road against Adelaide United 2-1.  Against Japanese Champions Sanfreece Hiroshima, I would say they pulled a bit of an upset coming back to win 2-1 on the road.  Finally, in the beginning of this month they beat the Thai champions Buriram United at home 3-0, but really the contest was not decided until Shandong scored two goals in the final ten minutes.  Nonetheless, right back Zhao Mingjian's goal was a cracker.

(Diego Tardelli, from ndonline.com.br)
Players to Watch

The obvious answer to this is Diego Tardelli.  Transferring from Atletico Mineiro, his stats were alright (6 goals in 19 games) last year, but he has been on fire since the start of 2016.  He only has one goal in two CSL games, but he has four goals in four ACL games.  I would say five goals in six games is a great rate of return for a striker.  He has been described as being a dynamic player.  He has a great first touch, some ridiculous dribbling skills, and speed.  Watching some of his ACL highlights, I think he also has the instincts of a poacher as well.  

In the winter transfer window, they signed Brazilian defender Gil from Corinthians.  He has height and he is supposed to shore up last year's leaky defense.  I am sure the usual plaudits that are assigned to CBs are a given here- good in the air, strong in tackle, reads the game well, etc.  



(Dejan gets an easy tap in, from FCSeoul.com)
FC Seoul- K League Classic

They finished in fourth place last year.  Seoul struggled for a good bit of the year until the end.  Dejan returned and there were a lot of good vibes. Unfortunately, they lost last week 1-0 to Jeonbuk in Jeonju.  What will happen this year remains to be seen.


FC Seoul- AFC Champions League

Seoul have started out quite well in their group.  They have won the first two games in the group and currently lead Shandong on goal difference.  Against Buriram United, they were scintillating and won 6-0.  They were just as good against Sanfrecce Hiroshima, winning 4-1.  In both games, Adriano dominated and he currently leads the AFC with seven goals.  

FC Seoul's Lineup and Formation

FC Seoul 5-3-2 football formation

I do not imagine that Choi Yong-soo will rotate his team too much for this game.  He will not have been happy with Saturday's result, but the team did not play terribly in that game.  Of course, outside of the first 20 minutes, they did not dominate either.    

This game is important for both teams.  If Seoul win, they take a commanding lead in the group, having beaten all three teams.  If Seoul lose, then the same applies for Shandong.  That is why I think Choi will name his best group and trot out the same 11 players that started both ACL games and last week's Seoul-Jeonbuk contest.  

That being said, it would not surprise me if Kim Chi-woo got a start this game.  Go Yo-han went off in the second half as a substitute.  He was the recipient of a hard tackle in the first half, so maybe he picked up a knock.  If so, then I could see Kim Chi-woo starting on the left and Ko Kwang-min manning the right flank.  Choi made this switch on Saturday, so it would not surprise me if he went with that to start the game.  

(from zimbio.com)
Keys to Win

I cannot find any information about Shandong's contest against Mohun Bagan, but looking at soccerway.com, there is on their other three games.  Against Adelaide on the road, Shandong were quite happy to cede possession, sit back, and hit them on the counter.  Adelaide had 67% of the possession, but could only muster 8 shots while Shandong had total of thirteen shots, with nine of them being on goal.  

In their next game versus Sanfrecce Hiroshima, they stuck to the same pattern of ceding possession and playing on the counter.  Shandong had possession of the ball for only 39% of the game, but they put up FIFA 16/PES 2016-like stat of 24 shots (11 on target) while only allowing Hiroshima 7 shots on goal.  In both contests, they came away 2-1 winners. 

At home against Buriram, they had the majority of the possession, 55%, but struggled to create the same chances.  Shandong had 11 shots on goal, but only four were on target.  Still, with a 3-0 win, who can complain.  

Looking at Shandong's league form, they had the majority of the possession in both games but struggled to create goals.  Versus last week's opponent, Lioaning Whowin, Shandong had the ball for 55% of the time but only crafted six shots on goals.  Against their first opponent Jiangsu Sunning, Shandong had 66% of the possession  and only six shots on goal.  Granted, much of that possession probably is a result of Jiangsu scoring first and then deciding to cede the ball and defend.  

Shandong are a team that has quality up and down.  Their current striker Yang Xu, playing for Aliosio, bagged seven goals last year and has scored against Adelaide, Sanfrecce Hiroshima, and Lioaning Whowin, which shows he is in good form right now.  Their keeper Wang Dalei plays for the national team and some might argue that defender Zheng Zheng, with his experience, is a key player.  

In my opinion, I think the midfield is where Shandong's strength lies.  They will line up in 4-2-3-1.  The two DMs will most likely be Hao Junmin and Jucilei and the attacking trident will consist of Diego Tardelli and Wang Yongpo on the flanks and Argentine Walter Montillo in the middle.  Many of Shandong's goals have come from the attacking trident.  

However, if Seoul can dominate this area through Ju Se-jong, Shin Jin-ho, and Takahagi, then they should be able to provide service to the strikers.  Against, Jeonbuk's three CBs and two DMs, this proved to be difficult.  The midfield must also provide defensive cover and help the wing-backs track Tardelli and Yongpo.  That is why, as always, I think controlling the middle will be the key.  

Shandong's defense is its Achilles heel.  From watching highlights briefly, they seem to have a penchant for conceding headers.  Against Adelaide and Lioaning, they conceded headers and Hiroshima scored from the defense's inability to head the ball out of the box off of a cross.  Along with controlling the midfield, I think Seoul should test the defense with crosses into the box and try to win as many set pieces as possible.  I think the defense will panic and this could lead to a goal or two.   

Finally, Shandong are at their best when sitting back and playing on the counter.  In the games where they did not have the majority of the ball they created many chances.  Of course, how many of them were of quality is difficult to say.  

That is why I think, like Jeonbuk last week, Shandong will give Seoul the ball and invite them into their area.  Shandong will hope to use the speed and quality of Tardelli to nick a goal on the break.  We will find out if it works on Wednesday night.  

(from cctv.com)

Prediction

These two teams have met up before.  It was in 2009 and the first game was played in Jinan with Shandong coming away 2-0 winners.  On the return leg to Seoul, the game finished 1-1 as Shandong scored in the 79th minute and then spent the rest of the match time-wasting via fake injuries.  

I expect Seoul to do better this time out.  They have more quality than the 2009 squad and with the exception of last weekend, have been playing very well.  It will be a tough game and I expect both teams to create a lot of chances, but then again, that is what I predicted for last weekend.  However, even with the help of the state and thirteen families, I think the quality of Seoul's midfield, the tenacity of Osmar in defense, Dejan's vision, and Adriano's form will be too much on Wednesday for Shandong to handle.  

Final Score: Shandong Luneng Taishan FC 1-2 FC Seoul







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